This is the second half of a discussion I had with my friend Charles of Mostly Bright Ideas. The first half can be found on his blog, here. The conversation began harmlessly enough, with my mentioning the respect I have for certain male actors and their contributions to cinematic art. Charles then began making accusatory statements about women, which I trust will be as objectionable to you as they were to me. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t steer our discussion back to reasonable ground. The result, I fear, is a post that may prove to be suicidal for me, with many women misinterpreting his sentiments for mine. I would like to say that I am just an innocent, gullible little mindless pawn in his strange and paranoid game, and that he got me into this against my will. Yes, I would like to say that.
MBI: First, what do you mean by attractive?
PV: Physically and intellectually. Or either.
MBI: It’s very hard for me to separate them. And it’s more than those two things.
PV: Like? Emotionally?
MBI: It’s personality, intellect, and emotional makeup. Personality alone is a million little things. Without those, physical attractiveness doesn’t really register. The world is filled with superficially attractive people. We see them everywhere we look. But for me to feel attracted, there has to be some other, much stronger factor. So if you were to ask me to name an actress I find attractive, I honestly couldn’t do it.
PV: I find it difficult to believe you.
MBI: I told you that’s what you’d say.
PV: In Moonstruck, Cher’s character must have aroused some interest in you. Did it, in turn, arouse any interest in Cher?
MBI: No. I can recognize that her character became more attractive when she began to fall in love, and when she began to feel loved. I could see why he was drawn to her. But I didn’t have those feelings myself. And even if I did, that wouldn’t cause me to say, “I’m in love with Cher.”
PV: My question was related to feeling attracted, drawn towards a woman other than your wife. Is it really that improbable?
MBI: Let’s say that it happens. What purpose does it serve for me to tell my wife? And an even bigger question, what purpose does it serve for me to announce this fact to dozens of people at a party with my wife standing ten feet away? I’ve seen women do that: “I’m in love with Hugh Grant,” or “Harrison Ford is so gorgeous!” And my immediate thought is always, “What is her husband thinking right now?”
PV: You make women sound like mindless, unfeeling monsters.
MBI: Not monsters, but momentarily mindless and unfeeling. Otherwise, what is the motivation behind saying something like that?
PV: Getting it out of the head, probably. I don’t know whether you’ve heard women talk of a real man or an inaccessible celebrity. It makes a lot of difference.
MBI: I know. It’s always a celebrity, which seems crazy to me. This is a person they’ve never met, never seen without his make-up and special lighting, probably never heard speak without a script.
PV: You said it: personality is a million little things. Attraction comes from all of that.
MBI: But the personality of a movie character has nothing to do with the personality of the actor. Women should be falling in love with screenwriters.
PV: We all know that Al Pacino talks the same, no matter what the character. Or Nicholas Cage. All of them, really. So, even if the character is doing things the actor wouldn’t do, the actual person is able to show that personality.
MBI: Prepare to get mad.
PV: I am prepared.
MBI: Women are told who to like and who to find attractive, and they obey.
MBI: Really? You agree?
PV: I agree.
MBI: Maybe that’s what really bothers me about it. You said mindless. And that’s how it seems to me.
PV: You are right.
MBI: People Magazine. “Sexiest Man Alive.” That’s the most insulting thing I’ve ever heard of.
PV: Insulting? To the man?
MBI: To women.
MBI: Could you cut that out?
MBI: Why are you agreeing with me?
PV: Because I agree with you. Without being told to.
MBI: Well it’s very confusing.
PV: The general fact may be what you say, but it is not the only truth.
MBI: Hollywood is ruled by men. For every well-known actress, I can name ten well-known actors. It’s because they know that most of the money is coming from women and their fantasies. Hollywood is built on female fantasies. And another thing. There’s a strong movement that’s begun to help women — especially girls — appreciate their own natural beauty and stop comparing themselves to the airbrushed creations on magazine covers.
PV: I know. That’s a wonderful thing.
MBI: But when women compare their husbands or boyfriends to these artificial Hollywood creations, they’re doing the same thing. They’re setting their mates up for failure, all to justify their own fantasies.
PV: What about male fantasies?
MBI: As I keep saying, I never hear men talking about actresses. Never about how attractive or sexy they are. Never how they’re in love with them. Have you ever seen a video of when the Beatles appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1964?
MBI: Have you heard of the Ed Sullivan Show?
PV: No! Tell me what happened.
MBI: It was a variety show on Sunday nights. It was live television. The Beatles made their first US appearance on that show in February 1964. The women in the audience (probably teenagers) were screaming, crying, and fainting. They were fainting! I try to imagine men doing that, and I can’t. It’s just a different way of reacting.
PV: Yes. Men consider women as a conquest. Women consider men as a gift. Generally.
MBI: Okay, but I’ve gotten gifts before. I don’t start squealing and pulling my hair.
PV: Let me ask you this. How would you cope with an attraction?
MBI: What do you mean?
PV: If you are drawn towards another woman, what do you do? Please do not say that in the last twenty years, you have not felt drawn towards any woman, in some sense.
MBI: As I said before, there would have to be a very strong emotional connection, and that takes time.
PV: Now you’re driving me crazy.
MBI: I warned you.
PV: Have you ever felt like praising a woman in a way that is more than something like “She’s a good person.” Have you ever felt like saying “She’s beautiful.” Or just, “Wow!”
MBI: I’ll say yes just to appease you. But why would I announce it?
PV: Felt it?
MBI: Yes, but it wasn’t based on looks.
PV: Finally! It’s not just the looks. For anybody. Well, for the mindless women, it is mostly about appearance and being told who to like. But for thinking women, it is the subtle nuances. They overlook the superficiality, the charade, because they like fairy tales and their world does not give them that.
MBI: That’s what’s missing? The fairy tale?
PV: If it’s an unmarried girl, she may be using that man as a template for her coming life. If it’s a married woman, the reality sinks in. Real life, married life, is not anywhere close to the template. Yes, something is missing. We probably live through these celebrities, and garb them with innocent compliments. These disappointments are so subtle, without knowing, women begin to appreciate an image.
MBI: I’ll ask it again: do you think when women make comments about their fantasy men, they’re trying to punish their husbands or boyfriends?
PV: No. I think they are simply reassuring themselves that there are, in fact, fairy tale-like men around. And in a strange way, that such a man is available to them. He’s just a DVD away. All this is done without any harmful intent. And most men take it as such.
MBI: I like the way you explained that. But I still think that instead of saying some celebrity is so this or that, your life would be that much better if you told your husband those things. About him.
PV: Yes. I do. Which is probably why he’s not all that bothered about what I say about the celebrities.
MBI: I also think the celebrities get more than their share of attention and praise. They don’t need any more, and they aren’t even aware of what you’re saying. So why waste it on them?
PV: Perhaps you’re right. Should we forget the post?
MBI: You always want to bail out at the last minute.
PV: No. I was just thinking that perhaps the intention of writing this post was to understand, not all that much to publish. So, the purpose seems achieved. But still, I want to understand how men really feel about this. You are the only one I’ve seen who’s brought it up. And you’ve told me why you find it disturbing. But somehow, you’ve not convinced me.
MBI: Not convinced you that it’s worth changing the behavior?
PV: Not convinced me about why you find the behavior disturbing in the first place.
MBI: Really? I thought we’d made more progress than that. Maybe you’re right; we should just forget it.
PV: So now you’re bailing out?
MBI: Yes. I’m going to watch X-Men.
PV: Why? I thought you had no interest.
MBI: I heard Halle Berry is in it. I’m in love with that woman.
The conclusion we both came to after hours of conversation, numerous emails, and questionnaires sent out to several friends was this: There are boundaries that differ from person to person and couple to couple. What’s acceptable to one may be unacceptable to others. Most women are aware of the behavior and see nothing wrong with it. Most men don’t seem bothered by it; at least that’s what they say.
We hope this post will help spark more discussion, because while boundaries should be respected, first they have to be identified.